“Captain America: The Winter Soldier” opened to a tune of a $300 million weekend. The film has been “certified fresh” by reviews aggregate Rotten Tomatoes (currently at an 89%). People are talking about the film. Here, we will explore some major themes in the movie from a Christian perspective. There will be SPOILERS in what follows.
A question which reverberates throughout the film is that of purpose. What is Captain America’s purpose? He struggled with this himself; in a world far different from the one he sprung from, what place did he have?
It’s a kind of struggle that all humans experience at some point: an existential crisis of place. Where are we in the world? What is our purpose? How do we pursue it?
These questions speak to a longing for something greater. They are questions which address the core of human nature: awash in a universe which at times seems empty and without purpose, we mirror the uncertainty Captain America displayed. Yet the film itself speaks to the fact that there is real purpose in the universe. In “The Winter Soldier,” friendship and loyalty play major roles. The revelation that The Winter Soldier is, in fact, Bucky, a friend from the Captain’s past, leads to a poignant scene in which the Captain refuses to fight his friend due to an earlier vow. Purpose, it seems, is grounded on relationships. It is grounded in persons.
Ultimately, of course, the Christian worldview holds to that same concept but on a cosmic scale. Purpose in the universe is grounded on a person: God.
The depths of human nature are plumbed in the film, as it is discovered that Hydra, an evil Nazi organization, has managed to infiltrate Shield at the highest levels. At the core of the film’s portrayal of human nature is the notion that we are ruled by various fears. We are overwhelmed by chaos, and, if given enough of it, will succumb to any amount of limitations and control in order to turn away from the pit of destruction. Hydra helped bring about as much chaos as possible in order to push humanity to the brink.
It is a conspiracy theorists dream come true: the highest levels of intelligence infiltrated by an evil institution bent on wiping out all threats to its ultimate power. But the fact is that the plot twist was not really that unbelievable. But the strength of the scenario is how very believable it was. The notion that humans would give in to extreme injustice in order to flee from those things which scare them most really wasn’t unbelievable. The fact that both Hydra and Shield were working to eliminate “potential” threats ahead of time sealed the deal.
The commentary on human nature should not be missed: humanity is inherently fearful. Separated from a sense of tranquility and order, we often cling to things which are patently unjust in order to try to overcome our current situation. Think about it frankly: do you really think the scenario in this movie is all that preposterous? That’s what makes it so powerful. It’s not preposterous. In some ways, it’s already happening.
The portrayal of human nature discussed above leads naturally into the question of justice. Captain America acts as a kind of moral compass in the current Marvel universe. It is hard to resist the reasoning from both ends–Hydra and Shield–regarding the nature of humanity. In one scene, people are asked whether, if able, they would “press a button” to prevent violent hostage situations, terrorism, and the like. The appeal could have some nodding along with it. But think about it, touching that button would kill those who had yet to do anything wrong.
Thus, Captain America seems initially naive when it comes to this moral reasoning. After all, why would he be so opposed to a system that could prevent the loss of life and ruination of people? But the Captain doesn’t stop the chain of reasoning there. Instead, he calls for a view of justice towards all people; one in which even the “bad guys” aren’t assumed to be irreparable. Its a strong message, and one which resonates with the Christian worldview in powerful ways.
Think of Jonah, who would have preferred to see Nineveh burn than to see them repent. But he knew that God was a loving God, eager to show love and mercy to repentant sinners. Or consider the cry of Ezekiel to “turn” from wicked ways and repent to avoid certain death (Ezekiel 33:11). These themes echo in “The Winter Soldier” as the notion that simply terminating people who may be threats is explored.
Viewing the Captain as a moral compass has some interesting outcomes. For example, though Joss Whedon (director of “The Avengers”) is an avowed non-theist, in that flick, Captain America quips to Thor: “There’s only one God, and… he doesn’t dress like that.” Though an offhand remark, it is interesting to see that Captain America affirms there is “a” deity at all, let alone “only one.” This, from the man who in the face of pressure from all sides, refused to kill the man he promised to protect.
Regarding the Winter Soldier, I have to say that I see shades of the biblical Jonathan and David in the relationship here. There is a mutual vow to protect each other. The two are enmeshed in conflict and end up on opposite sides. Ultimately, they are forced to choose between destroying the other or honoring their loyalty to each other. Again, I’m not saying this is intentional, but the theme is there.
“Captain America: The Winter Soldier” has much for Christians to discuss. It’s an extremely compelling tale filled with themes of justice, loyalty, and friendship. In order to effectively engage the culture, we should use it as a springboard to start discussions about the deeper things. Let me know your thoughts on the movie in the comments.
Check out my other looks at films from a Christian perspective. (Scroll down for more.)
A Christian Look at “The Avengers”– I examine a number of themes in “The Avengers” which Christians and non-Christians can discuss.
Engaging Culture: A Brief Guide for movies– I reflect on how Christians can engage with popular movies in order to have meaningful conversations with those around them.
The image is copyrighted by Marvel and I make no claim to rights. I use it under fair use.
The preceding post is the property of J.W. Wartick (apart from quotations, which are the property of their respective owners, and works of art as credited; images are often freely available to the public and J.W. Wartick makes no claims of owning rights to the images unless he makes that explicit) and should not be reproduced in part or in whole without the expressed consent of the author. All content on this site is the property of J.W. Wartick and is made available for individual and personal usage. If you cite from these documents, whether for personal or professional purposes, please give appropriate citation with both the name of the author (J.W. Wartick) and a link to the original URL. If you’d like to repost a post, you may do so, provided you show less than half of the original post on your own site and link to the original post for the rest. You must also appropriately cite the post as noted above. This blog is protected by Creative Commons licensing. By viewing any part of this site, you are agreeing to this usage policy.
I have already reflected on Marvel’s “The Avengers” from a Christian perspective, but upon watching the recently released blu-ray and DVD I noticed two other major themes in the movie that I had missed in the previous post. So, time to look back at this huge blockbuster and offer some more thoughts!
There will be SPOILERS here.
Slavery of all mankind
A thoughtful friend of mine on Facebook pointed to the dialogue between Loki and a crowd of people near the beginning of the film wherein he forces them all to kneel. Loki stands before them and shouts:
Kneel before me. I said… Kneel! Is not this simpler? Is this not your natural state? It’s the unspoken truth of humanity that you crave subjugation. The bright lure of freedom diminishes your life’s joy in a mad scramble for power. For identity. You were made to be ruled. In the end, you will always kneel.
Think of how this resonates with the Christian notion of slavery in sin. We align ourselves with things that we love. Greed. Envy. Pride. Lust. Gossip. These things, while initially pleasurable, ultimately enslave us. Loki’s speech was very discerning, however. For even though these things come to enslave us and take time away from the goods in life, we come to love them, to glorify them, and to become attached to them. We want to be enslaved in sin. We desire it. Sin calls to us, enslaves us, and we love it.
Yet, as in the movie, we are called to rise up against this sin. But we can’t do it on our own. As I discussed in my other post on “The Avengers,” we “need a hero.” We cannot rise out of slavery. Paul discusses this very notion in his letter to Rome:
Don’t you know that when you offer yourselves to someone as obedient slaves, you are slaves of the one you obey—whether you are slaves to sin, which leads to death, or to obedience, which leads to righteousness? But thanks be to God that, though you used to be slaves to sin, you have come to obey from your heart the pattern of teaching that has now claimed your allegiance. You have been set free from sin and have become slaves to righteousness. (Romans 6:16-18, NIV)
Who is it that set us free? We did not do it on our own. After all, we became slaves to sin and offered ourselves freely to it. No, it is Christ Jesus who set us free. He was the “hero” who broke the chains and gave us our freedom in Him.
Debts that Cannot Be Paid
Later on, Loki converses with Black Widow. They discuss the notion that Black Widow has “debts” to others. She owes them for the things they’ve done for her. She says that her ledger is in the “red”–she is on the wrong side of debt. During this conversation, Loki tries to break Black Widow down verbally, “Can you wipe out that much red? …Your ledger is… gushing red.”
Loki’s comments are telling, for they are actually true of not just Black Widow but of everyone. We all have our debts. We have our sins that we commit in private, away from others. We have the anger we have expressed through thought and deed. Our ledgers are overflowing, they gush red. Our sins are too great for us to repay; we cannot wipe away the red.
Yet God has loved us so much that He paid the debt. Jesus, God in human form, came to earth and paid that debt for each and every one of us. Our ledgers were full, but now we’re in the black. We have become co-heirs with Christ and have received salvation by grace through faith. We are justified through Jesus’ death and resurrection. God forgives us our sins and wipes our ledgers clean on His behalf. Loki’s comments are not unlike those of the Devil, trying to convince us that we are still in debt. Can anyone–even God–wipe away all the wrongs we’ve done? Fortunately, that answer is yes. Although we ourselves cannot repay it, God has done so for us.
Another great line in the film is when New York City is under attack (seriously, why can’t that city catch a break?). Iron Man comes face to face with a gigantic enemy ship/creature/thing (my wife named it “Leviathan” and I think that’s a great title) and has to take it down. He asks his onboard computer: “You ever heard the tale of Jonah?” He then bursts into the mouth of the Leviathan and flies through it, exploding from the end and destroying it.
No, the reference was never explained. Hey, if you don’t know the story, look it up! It’s one of my favorites in the Bible. Just get out a Bible (or search online) and flip to “Jonah.” It’s short, and I guarantee you it’s worth the read!
It seems to me that there are a number of themes in “The Avengers” that Christians can relate to. The notion of the incredible debt we owe and cannot pay due to our past resonates directly with the Christian worldview. It points towards the salvation we have in Christ. Similarly, our slavery to sin cannot be overlooked. We want to sin, we crave it, but thankfully those bonds are broken in Christ.
A Christian Look at “The Avengers”– I examine a number of other themes in “The Avengers” which Christians and non-Christians can discuss.
Engaging Culture: A Brief Guide for movies– I reflect on how Christians can engage with popular movies in order to have meaningful conversations with those around them.
The preceding post is the property of J.W. Wartick (apart from citations, which are the property of their respective owners, and works of art as credited) and should not be reproduced in part or in whole without the expressed consent of the author. All content on this site is the property of J.W. Wartick and is made available for individual and personal usage. If you cite from these documents, whether for personal or professional purposes, please give appropriate citation with both the name of the author (J.W. Wartick) and a link to the original URL. If you’d like to repost a post, you may do so, provided you show less than half of the original post on your own site and link to the original post for the rest. You must also appropriately cite the post as noted above. This blog is protected by Creative Commons licensing. By viewing any part of this site, you are agreeing to this usage policy.
The Avengers is a huge blockbuster film. Reviewers are raving about it. It’s a cultural phenomenon now. How should a Christian take the movie? Is there anything of value to it, or is it just another action flick? Here, I’ll offer less a review [short review: it was amazing, probably my favorite hero movie other than “The Dark Knight”] than a survey of some thinking points Christians can use to engage with the culture as they interact with the movie. There will be spoilers.
I Need a Hero
Consider the overall theme of The Avengers. Earth is in trouble from outside (alien/demigod) forces. But, in a way, the humans brought this plight upon themselves (they messed with powers they should not have–this theme is found throughout the entirety of the film). How can we be saved? We must look to our hero(es) and utterly rely upon them. Think about it. That is exactly the human condition now. We need a hero. I can’t help but channel that song by Skillet, “Hero.” We aren’t superhuman, we aren’t superheroes. Ultimately, we have to rely on someone else.
The overarching theme of The Avengers is therefore very reminiscent of the Christian story. Christianity holds that we have a plight: we’re under assault from our own sinfulness, into which we were tempted by Satan. We tried to mess with that which we should not have attempted: sin. And now, because of that, we are under assault. We have no way to save ourselves. We need a hero. We can’t escape from it ourselves. Like the civilians on the streets of the cities as they come under attack in the film, we must rely utterly upon that hero. We are powerless.
Yes, I do think that this theme resonates deeply with Christianity. Jesus Christ is our hero. He gave his life for us, willingly. He rose again. He came despite having no need to do so, and saved us from that from which we cannot save ourselves.
Another way to look at this theme is the deep human need for help. We realize we are floating in this gigantic universe and we feel insignificant. What meaning is there? We look to heroes–we fictionalize them and make them into “superheroes.” Even the previews before the movie showed two more hero flicks coming up: The Dark Knight Rises and The Amazing Spiderman. We are obsessed with this theme. Yet the real story of Christianity is even more compelling: we’ve already been saved. God has already acted. He sent us our hero, when we needed Him most. Death itself has been defeated. The human urge to look for a hero, to look beyond ourselves for help, is satisfied poignantly in Christ Jesus our Lord.
God Doesn’t Wear That
One of my favorite lines in the entire movie came from Captain America: “There is only one God, ma’am, and I’m pretty sure He doesn’t dress like that.” [Author’s note: I found several references to this quote and they all varied slightly, however if my memory serves me, this is the correct version.]
What can Christians think about this? Well clearly just saying there is “one God” doesn’t do much, but what is interesting is the context he says this in. Captain America has just met Thor (a demigod/superhero), yet he still affirms there is “only one [true] God.” Sure, Thor can play with lightning, but ultimately he is not God. There is but one God, and He’s infinitely greater than Thor or any of the other “gods” who turn out to be little more than powerful beings from Asgard.
More importantly, I think a Christian could use this pop culture reference in a dialog as one notes the importance of anthropomorphic language about God. God “doesn’t dress like that!” Too often, when we speak of God, we have this picture of some old guy with a beard. But God “doesn’t dress like that.” He’s transcendent, beyond. Yet He chose to come into the flesh to save us (see “I Need a Hero” above)! I found this quote very thought-provoking.
Another theme of The Avengers is the fact that we aren’t alone. Humanity is thought of by some in the movie’s universe as a helpless, defenseless planet which will certainly fall at the slightest attack. Humans are but one amongst many powers in the universe, and not the most powerful.
Again, this theme resonates with Christianity. We aren’t the most powerful beings in the universe, and we are not alone. There are angels and demons, gods, and God. I can’t fully develop the layers of meaning in the Bible in regards to all the powers of the universe, but a great discussion can be found in Gerald McDermott’s God’s Rivals. God is supreme over all things and unchallenged, but that doesn’t mean there aren’t powerful forces who seek to subvert His divine plan.
The Avengers was a fantastic flick. It has everything a huge summer blockbuster needs. It’s worth seeing for the action alone, but the story resonates deeply with our strongest urges. It informs us of our need for a hero/savior. It affirms that we are not alone. I can’t help but say I strongly encourage Christians to see the movie and take note of the themes which resonate with our worldview; they are there in abundance. As we seek to engage with the culture, we can point out how our own story–the True Story of Jesus Christ–satisfies the needs felt in the movie, and more.
The Avengers: Sin, Salvation, and Jonah– There are even more themes in the movie that I think really resonate with the Christian worldview. Check out my other post on the topic.
Drew Zahn also raves about Christian themes in The Avengers. [Major spoilers at this link.]
The preceding post is the property of J.W. Wartick (apart from citations, which are the property of their respective owners) and should not be reproduced in part or in whole without the expressed consent of the author. All content on this site is the property of J.W. Wartick and is made available for individual and personal usage. If you cite from these documents, whether for personal or professional purposes, please give appropriate citation with both the name of the author (J.W. Wartick) and a link to the original URL. If you’d like to repost a post, you may do so, provided you show less than half of the original post on your own site and link to the original post for the rest. You must also appropriately cite the post as noted above. This blog is protected by Creative Commons licensing. By viewing any part of this site, you are agreeing to this usage policy.